Laurie Burrows Grad CW’66 has long had a passion for food. By age five she was making omelets; by nine she was ordering frog legs and snails in restaurants; by 1979 she was contributing food editor for Los Angeles magazine and writing for a slew of culinary magazines. In 1993 her cooking show, Laurie Cooks Light & Easy, kicked off on The Learning Channel and then moved to the Travel Channel, and she continues to offer vibrant culinary discussions and demonstrations as a regular guest on other TV shows. Then there are her four well-received cookbooks: Make It Easy in Your Kitchen, Make It Easy Entertaining, Entertaining Light & Easy, andMake It Easy, Make It Light.
For the past four decades, Burrows Grad has also been a serious collector of cookbooks, and last month she donated her 7,000-volume collection to the University libraries. (“I decided to donate the books now,” she says. “Why do it when I’m dead?”) The gift will add to Penn’s Esther B. Aresty Collection of Rare Books in the Culinary Arts, and will aid culinary historians in their quest for the precise recipes, food philosophies, and lifestyle attitudes of the past century. It also enhances the theme of culinary exhibits emerging from the library’s collections (http://www.library.upenn.edu/portal/Aresty).
Burrows Grad’s collection includes some classic Americana: three early editions of Fannie Merritt Farmer’s The Boston Cooking School Cookbook; the 1915 Text-Book of Cooking by Carlotta C. Greer; the 1886 and 1914 editions of Sarah Tyson Rorer’s Mrs. Rorer’s Cookbook; Alex W. Moffat’s 1928 The Galley Guide (which offers meal plans, supply lists, and recipes for seafaring folk); and the 1929 White House Cookbook, whose festive recipes include salt-pork-stewed heirloom pigeons stuffed with onion dressing and thyme. Slightly more recent offerings include early Joy of Cooking editions, The Silver Palate, the Williams & Sonoma collection, and a trove of books by Julia Child, James Beard, and Michael Field.
“I would pick up old cookbooks wherever I’d go,” says Burrows Grad. “I love to see what people are eating in different places.”
The road to becoming a celebrated culinary guru was a winding one for Burrows Grad, whose family has a strong theatrical streak. (Her late father, Abe Burrows, was a well-known Broadway playwright and director; her brother, James Burrows, is a noted television director; her husband, Peter Grad W’62, is a television producer; and their son, Nicholas Grad C’91, and his wife, Carolyn Bernstein, are television executives.) She was already a trained mezzo-soprano when she arrived at Penn in the early sixties, having studied music at the New York High School of Music and Art.
After graduating from Penn with a degree in history, a husband, and a new family in the works, Burrows Grad took a course in career planning, and concluded that her real passion was food. She also realized that her training in history was a boon.
“A lot of my food work is research,” she says. “I love to do research; it’s the same with studying history. Food is a way of researching history; food is culture and food is history.”
The culinary world has changed dramatically since the 1960s, when Burrows Grad started collecting. In those days people were “more familiar with Jell-O than gravlax,” she says, whereas today people are more concerned with cooking with fresh, wholesome ingredients and can easily find information about them on the Internet.
The publishing world has also changed. By the time she had her first televised show in the 1980s, she recalls: “I’d hold up my book [on the program] and people ran to the store and bought it up. In 1982, I sold 100,000 copies from one show because of the power of television.”
After two decades with Los Angeles magazine, Burrows Grad is now editor of one of the top food and travel sites, Epicurus.com. Moreover, she has written for Bon Appetit, Food & Wine, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Woman’s Day, and Buzz magazine. Ultimately, her interests and talents converged into a perfect recipe for a television cooking show, the key ingredients being stage presence, food-passion, and love for communicating.
Her talent for communication and organizing also proved invaluable after her father died from Alzheimer’s in 1985. Burrows Grad became a high-profile activist, raising awareness and money—more than $12 million so far—for Alzheimer’s patients through the Alzheimer’s Association (http://www.alzla.org/).
Fourteen years ago, she began “A Night at Sardi’s” with the Alzheimer’s Association in Los Angeles. It was a way to create a fun event, honor her father (who used to take her there as a child), and raise much-needed money for Alzheimer’s research and care support. The annual evening event sells out every year and draws in a broad range of celebrities, who don the costumes of that year’s musical and perform a concert version of the work.
“Sardi’s was a way of saying Broadway without saying it,” she explains. “Each year we perform Broadway hits. The next event will be ‘Funny Girl.’”
Now a young-looking grandmother, Burrows Grad has something else cooking: a fashion book for women over 40.
—Beebe Bahrami Gr’95